Americans want food their way, and a new survey shows that "their way" calls for a higher quality, more varied meal than they're getting at the top burger, burrito, sandwich and chicken chains.
Consumer Reports asked subscribers to answer one straightforward question: "On a scale of 1 to 10, from least delicious to most delicious you’ve ever eaten, how would you rate the taste?"
96,208 meals and 65 chains later, some trends emerged: readers expressed an increased interest in the quality of the food, and less of a focus on convenience than they had in the group's 2011 report. One industry expert, Darren Tristano of Technomic, a food-service research and consulting firm, told Consumer Reports that he believes the shift has a lot to do with the increasing role food plays in millennials' social lives.
"More and more, food quality ― not just low price ― is emerging as a deciding-factor for many Americans when choosing where to spend their dining dollars," said Tod Marks, senior projects editor for Consumer Reports in a press release about the survey.
He continued, “Strong regional players and slightly more upscale fast-casual chains like Chipotle are giving the heavy-hitters in the fast-food business a wake-up call. And our survey clearly shows the big guys need to respond.”
But let's serve up the data:
In the burger business, The Habit Burger Grill took top honors, earning an 8.1 out of 10 points from readers, followed closely by cult favorite In-N-Out Burger with an 8.0 rating. Five Guys Burgers and Fries tied with Smashburger at 7.9 and Fuddrucker's finished out the top five at 7.8.
In the chicken category, Chick-fil-A ruled the roost. The headline-grabbing chain earned an 8.1, just above second-place finisher El Pollo Loco, which earned a 7.7 satisfaction score. KFC fowl-ed out with a last-place 7.1.
Wiener chain Portillo's Hot Dogs was the big winner in the sandwiches and subs group, earning an 8.5 from fans, making it the top-ranked chain of the whole survey. The world's largest restaurant chain, Subway - which has recently sought to revamp its image after consumers lobbied for "yoga mat" chemical azodicarbonamide to be removed from its bread, and reports of worker underpayment emerged - finished second to last with a 7.2, just two-tenths of a point above Au Bon Pain.
And the burrito category was a wrap for "farm-to-face" favorite Chipotle. The chain edged out second place finisher Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, 7.8 to 7.7. Taco Bell bottomed out the rankings with a 6.3.
The survey also revealed that most fast-food diners aren’t concerned about their diets when they dine out. Only one-fifth worry about the availability of healthier menu options when they're deciding where to eat. Once they're in the restaurant, only 19% opt to order them.
The full report is available to subscribers at ConsumerReports.org and in the August issue of the magazine.
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